Looking Forward, LEAN-ing Forward

Bishop Deborah Hutterer of the Grand Canyon Synod.

Advent is a time of looking forward, of waiting, in hope and joyful preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) is looking forward, too, with two important upcoming events.

Pencils For Pupils

In January, LEAN is sponsoring a fund raising effort called Pencils for Pupils. Former LEAN advocate and current board member, Rev. Mike Patterson, was for many years a public school teacher. Low income students were and are a special concern of his. Every parish in Nevada has members who are teachers, active and retired. They and parents know that schools do not provide all the supplies needed for classroom work, and that parents are expected to fill these needs. For a family struggling to pay the rent or buy necessities, this can be a real barrier to their children’s education. As we go into the spring semester, budgets for supplies, both at home and at school, are often exhausted. The donations that often come in for the fall are not repeated for spring. LEAN has an arrangement with Office Depot that enables us to buy at a significant discount. LEAN is asking for parishioners to make small donations to fund Pencils for Pupils. Please mail your donation direct to LEAN c/o Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 357 Clay St., Reno NV 89501, before January 15, 2019. Please put “Pencils for Pupils” on the memo line of your check, and note which congregation you are part of. Once the supplies are purchased, each congregation will be able to choose a school to receive them. The ELCA Social Statement on Education calls us to strive with others to ensure that all have access to high-quality education. This is one small way we can do that.

Legislative Forum

As the 2019 Legislative Session gets underway in February, LEAN invites all parishioners to attend a special Legislative Forum on Thursday, February 7  at 10 a.m. in the Legislature building. Discussion will center on issues that will be addressed in upcoming legislation.  Featured speaker Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer, Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod. Bishop Hutterer was  installed in September 2018 and because Grand Canyon Synod covers Las Vegas, she is the Bishop for most of the Lutherans in Nevada. Bishop Hutterer is a lifelong Lutheran who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a young woman she felt called to ministry, but that was before Lutherans ordained women. After starting two businesses, and working in the insurance industry and in administration for Lutheran colleges, she came back to ministry. She was ordained in 2004, and was pastor to a church in Illinois. Most of Bishop Hutterer’s career has been in faith based social services. Before being elected Bishop, Rev. Hutterer was Chief Development Officer for Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. In that role she traveled extensively throughout Arizona, preaching, presiding, and presenting at congregations and ministry groups on such topics as refugee resettlement, child abuse prevention, and aging. Her work enabled her to connect and collaborate with colleagues, congregations, ecumenical and interfaith partners.

LEAN is excited to be able to work with Bishop Hutterer, since she clearly shares a passion for social justice. All Nevada Lutherans should be eager to learn what she would like to see the Legislature pass in the coming session.

A luncheon will be served at no charge in connection with the event. There will also be opportunities to meet with Legislators. To RSVP, please email LEAN legislative advocate Bill Ledford. Lutherans from Southern Nevada are encouraged to attend as well.

For Lutherans It’s ‘Us Too’

By Sheila Freed

At the end of September, the country was absorbed in a real-life soap opera, broadcast live from a hearing room in the U.S. Senate. The Brett Kavanaugh hearing was just the latest event in a year’s worth of controversy over sexual assault and harassment. The Me Too movement seemingly just happened last year. One might be surprised to know that the ELCA identified and addressed gender-based violence in 2015.

ELCA Social Messages are second in rank below the Social Statements, and are typically used when the church wants to speak out on an issue that needs immediate attention. Social Messages are adopted by the Church Council, and do not require the lengthy deliberation of a Social Statement. So the [churchwide] Church Council adopted a message on gender-based violence in late 2015.

The introductory paragraph says, “Gender-based violence is an ancient sin that for thousands of years has harmed countless women, children, and men. It is a sin that Christians need to recognize, understand, and confront, for our religious history also bears its stain.” The message then recounts a shocking story from Second Samuel, in which Amnon, King David’s firstborn son, rapes his half-sister Tamar. King David learns of it, but does nothing to punish Amnon, whom David loved and intended to succeed him as king. How many versions of this story have we all heard?

The message goes on to explore the ways we are all involved in gender based violence, which is defined as “physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, or other personal harm inflicted on someone for gender-based reasons.” Included are hurts some don’t think of as gender based violence, such as harassment, coercion, elder and child abuse, and pornography. The message notes that the factors contributing to gender based violence are deeply woven into society and our individual lives. It says we all share in the brokenness and judgment brought on by this sin. It points out that we are all survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders.

The message bluntly states, [Gender-based violence] “occurs in the church, in workplaces, the educational system, city streets, war, the military, and the health care system. It occurs, for example, by acquaintances, friends, strangers, caregivers, teachers, clergy, coaches, and work supervisors. Through this violence, someone creates or maintains power and control over someone else. God calls us to love. Gender-based violence is not love.”

The message goes on, “Acts of gender-based violence always involve sinful individual choices to exercise power and control. The choice to inflict violence is a personal responsibility.” . . . . “While individuals are culpable, social systems influence individuals’ actions. This church has proclaimed that God’s grace calls us not only to confront individual sin, but also to confront sin in social systems.” The message talks about how patriarchy and racism in our society and the church contribute to gender-based violence.

Advocacy is our response to God’s call to confront the sins in our social system. LEAN is already working to learn about the bills that will come up in the 2019 Nevada Legislative Session. We know of at least one Bill Draft Request (14-87) by Assemblyman Steve Yeager, about protecting rights of sexual assault victims. We will be watching this and other bills as more is known. However the Social Message makes clear that gender-based violence is more that criminal acts. The power relationships we all engage in and tacitly allow are sin, and we need God’s forgiveness and love to deal with it. It is Us Too.

How Christians Can Help Save Democracy

By Sheila Freed

The research branch of The Economist magazine has for the past several years published an annual report about the health of democracies around the world.  In 2017 they downgraded the United States from “full democracy” to “flawed democracy.”   We knew that, one might say, and it’s certainly true that most Americans report dissatisfaction with the way our government functions.  The Economist uses statistics for its analysis, and has documented declining faith in the functioning of government and a significant drop in political participation.  In vernacular terms, we can say we think government is beyond fixing, so we’re dropping out.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the wrong approach because it allows the worst abuses of government to grow.

I was stunned recently to hear Professor Fred Lokken, chair of the Political Science Department at Truckee Meadows Community College, say that he tells his young students, “You will live under facism in your lifetime.”  That is a really grim prediction, and it derives in part from what he described as the lack of an engaged electorate.  This is true at all age levels, but especially students.  Under-30 people are often very good at protesting and Tweeting, but the majority do not vote or register to vote.

The ELCA Social Statement “The Church in Society:  A Lutheran Perspective” speaks directly to the danger of losing our freedom due to apathy.  The Statement says, “The witness of this church in society flows from its identity as a community that lives from and for the Gospel.  . . . The Gospel does not take the church out of the world but instead calls it to affirm and enter more deeply into the world.  . . . This church must participate in social structures critically, for sin is also at work in the world.  . . . This church, therefore, must unite realism and vision, wisdom and courage in its social responsibility.  It needs constantly to discern when to support and when to confront society’s cultural patterns, values, and powers.”

The statement names many ways we Christians carry out our baptismal vocation in daily life, and then says, “Christians also exercise their calling by being wise and active citizens.”  The statement closes with several Commitments on behalf of the entire church, including:  “Promote sound, critical and creative citizenship and public service among its members,” and “Expect its pastors, bishops and lay leaders to pray for and to exhort those in positions of authority on the basis of God’s prophetic Word.”

The ELCA’s position clearly is that staying on the sidelines is not an option.  Democracy doesn’t just happen, and we Christians, who believe all are equal, must work through public institutions to make equality the hallmark of our democracy.  Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to carry out both the commitments.  We work to keep people informed on issues Nevada Lutherans care about, and we have an Advocate at the Legislature to do the prophetic exhortation.  Our name says it all.

The next Nevada legislative session will begin in February 2019, and we expect the topics most in need of attention will be shortage of affordable health care, shortage of affordable housing, and education.  We will share information on these and other issues as we learn it.  However in the meantime, LEAN will be offering an exciting learning experience.  This will be a role-playing time at the Nevada Legislature, in which people can experience firsthand the give-and-take required to pass legislation.  More details will be published soon.

Have Something to Say? Your Legislators DO Listen

By Sheila Freed

LEAN has been urging everyone to do Advocacy by using the Nevada legislative website. We’ve told you how easy it is to connect with your state Senator or Assembly Member. I know many of us are skeptical, and doubt that our legislator or anyone else actually reads what we send. Well, I can tell you someone must read at least some of them. I recently emailed my Assembly Member, who happens to be Pat Hickey, about AB 223, a bill dealing with protection of elders and other vulnerable persons. The bill was due for a hearing a couple of days later, and I wanted to point out a possible unintended consequence of the legislation. I asked that the language of the bill, which I support, be tailored to address the unintended consequence. I copied the chair of the committee that would hear the bill, the ranking minority member, and the primary sponsor of the bill. I received an acknowledgement message from Assemblyman Hickey, which did not surprise me. But I was really surprised to find my email included in the “exhibits” package that was prepared for the hearing. I think this proves that legislators really do seek thoughtful input. My faith in the system received a big boost. Try it!